Christianity as an Interventionist Religion
Udo W. Middelmann is president of the Francis Schaeffer Foundation. He has been a lecturer and trustee for L’Abri International, a Presbyterian minister, a college professor, and a consultant to the Russian ministry of education. His most recent book is The Market-Driven Church: The Worldly Influence of Modern Culture on the Church in America (Crossway).
In Marxism life is tied to history progressing through the dialectic. In Islam the will of God binds everything and everyone together in community. Buddhists suggest that pain is only in the mind, which must be changed through detachment from self. Taoism sees man as a leaf on the river of time. African tribal religions demand submission to the elders’ patterns. Spirits rule the life of the Maya and of Mongolian Buddhists. Hindus consign man to a vicious cycle of reincarnation in a social caste system. In each case the result is human, social, political, and economic poverty. All are cultures of repetition, not of innovation, growth, and maturing wisdom. That is by far the great pollution, a waste of people and lives, the flattening of souls, and the dampening of the human spirit. Christianity stands in stark contrast to world views and religions which teach an ungodly, fatalistic merger with earth or time.
The biblical approach is driven by God’s social and cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28), and His strong prescription for life and against death after the Fall. Hands have to be put to the plough in toil; culture is to give shape to nature. The seeming finality of death is to be weakened by bearing children.
Scripture insists that men and women interfere with fallen nature and produce change for good against evil, for life against death, for reason against blind faith. Indeed, God Himself interferes through the written, spoken, and living Word. By His Word alone do we know that He is good, that there has been a terrible fall from wholeness, that we are made in His image, and that He has made us a little lower than the angels, able to understand and apply His revelation.
In the Old Testament, God sent out prophets to expose Israel’s spiritual and moral adultery.
He showed Job that life was not fair, that his friends were wrong in their foolish advice, and that in the midst of such horror the glory of God would be demonstrated by interference from God, not by a call to submit to it all. In the New Testament, we learn that the blind man was not blind because he deserved it or because God wanted it that way, but so that Jesus could show His power. And in Church history, gentle St. Francis could feed the birds, only because others respected the rule of law and the sword of the state, by which he and his fellow monks were protected.
The Bible calls us to active intervention, not resignation. It invites us to invent, to correct, and to critique. We are to dig and to delve, to vote and to veto, to discern and to discover. Life is our focus, death a temporary enemy resulting from sin. We must get things done, work, and create a surplus to support ourselves, unproductive children, widows, orphans, and the stranger under our roof for seven days from the work of six. We harness water, alter growth patterns in plants, amputate limbs to keep the person alive. We seek justice and appeal when it is not granted. We engage the mind and the body to look at issues from multiple sides in pursuit of truth. We have parallel and competing institutions in order to diminish the margin of error or misuse of power. Just as John, we do not cower before the foolish words of Herod in front of his few friends. John lost his head for a while, but Herod lost his soul forever.
Poverty, bad government, laughter at the misfortune of others is acceptable only in cultures where fate is assumed. No problem is recognized when all is seen as deserved or the result of destiny. All religions outside of Judaism and Christianity end up with this. They tie present reality to a master plan of long duration and urge one to let go of self, mind, soul, and eventually also body.
Western man and the biblical culture mandate of dominion are accused of interference. To this we gladly plead “Guilty!” In contrast, few outside the people influenced by biblical teaching ever stir to help the poor, intervene in catastrophes, work for better government and cleaner air. But God’s people do not lie low, do not accept a destiny; they not only describe, but also prescribe, and stand up to be heard and heeded.